Getting out of Hand
The incidents centring on recruitments of 10 Class III Employees
in Pabna have thrown some important questions on governance
It was meant to happen. On the 17th of September, a group of young members of Chhatra League (BCL) and Jubo League (BJL) stormed into Pabna Government High School and snatched the question papers of staff recruitment at the district administration. The incident is deplorable as it is, to make it even worse, the thugs belonging to the ruling party, according to newspaper reports, harassed a female executive magistrate, vandalised government-owned cars and abused the deputy commissioner (DC) and other civil servants.
Civil surgeon's office in Panchagarh ransacked by some Jubo League-Chhatra
League activists over non-inclusion of their chosen candidates in the list of successful job seekers.
Golam Faruk Khandaker Prince, the MP of Pabna sadar constituency where the ghastly incident has taken place has blamed the DC, who according to Prince, “is not a good person, and he doesn't work for me or for the party.”
The allegation exposes the way the MP's mind works. Prince thinks that the DCs, who are public servants, are accountable to the lawmakers and the ruling party. It is also unfortunate that Prince, who was elected in popular vote in the last general elections, thinks it is his job to hire his followers to the district administration. The DC earned the wrath of the lawmaker first when he refused to recruit 10 of Prince's men as class IV employees. What has brought matters to a head is the DC's refusal to allocate to the MP some 75 tonnes of TR rice and 65 bundles of CI sheets meant for the poor. It is not understandable why the lawmaker has wanted the rice and CI sheets, which is supposed to be distributed by the municipal corporation. The final blow to the MP's ego came when the lawmaker requested the DC to remove the principal of Pabna Homeopathy College, which the DC refused.
There is no doubt that the MP's demands have been unjust and the DC AFM Monjur Kadir has done what any other civil servant should have done if he had been in Manjur's place. An MP is not supposed to meddle into the affairs of the district administration; it is not the lawmaker but the governing body of a college, which should decide the fate of the college's Principal.
Twenty-one ruling party supporters being taken to jail from a Pabna court after they
surrendered. They are implicated
in the September 17 attack on officials of the district administration.
What is surprising is the behaviour of some of the ruling party members after they have turned Pabna into a pandemonium. The ruling party-men have said that the question papers of the recruitment of class IV employees were leaked, they threatened to gherao the DC office demanding the resignation of the DC, who was a few days ago was manhandled by some members of the Chhatra League and Jubo League.
In the aftermath of the assault, the DC called a view-exchange meeting in which many civil society members denounced the incident, calling it unprecedented. Mahmudur Rahman Manna, former VP of Dhaka University Central Union and Awami League leader, thinks the government should have acted long ago. “We have not done what we should have done to solve their problems,” Manna says.
In fact, even though the scale of bullying in Pabna is quite rare, there are allegations that ruling party members regularly manipulate government recruitments and sometimes it is done quite openly. Recently, in a meeting in Gopalganj, the Health Adviser to the Prime Minister Dr Syed Modasser Ali has said, “Some 13,350 employees will be recruited shortly for community clinics. We have decided that none outside the party (Awami League) will be recruited." He has claimed that the directive is from the Prime Minister herself. “If any officer found recruiting outsiders bypassing the directive will be taken to task.”
Dr Akbar Ali Khan
Faced with criticism by the media and the civil society, he has defended his stance, and that too in his own strange way: “The recruitment will be based on qualifications. But, if 50 people qualify for a single post in a union parishad clinic, whom should we appoint? We will of course try to have a party man in that case."
Badiul Alam Majumdar of Shushashoner Jonno Nagorik, which advocates good governance, thinks both Prince and Modasser's behaviour is unacceptable and a stumbling block for the country's fledgling democracy. “Legislature and administration should be separated; and the kind of behaviour that both of them have indulged themselves in goes against the tenants of the country's constitution,” he says.
The attack on public administrators in such a dastardly manner has also embarrassed many Awami League leaders. “Be it good governance and the establishment of a pro-people economy, I think between the two major political parties, which interchangeably rule the country, Awami League is the better option. That is why I believe in the politics of AL. The saddest part of the story is these kinds of incidents are happening at a time when the Awami League is in power. Is it because the Prime Minister is not in the country?” Manna says.
Dr Akbar Ali Khan, a former civil servant and former Adviser of the caretaker government, thinks that the PM could have been promptly contacted. “Some policymakers even talked about waiting for the Prime Minister's return as she is abroad now. She should have been immediately briefed, and in this world of Internet, is it so difficult?” he says. Manna echoes Dr Khan's view and says, “I think a bad precedent has been set and it is very ominous for us who still believe in the politics of the party.”
The DC has also had his fare share of blame in the saga. Some analysts think that he could have dealt with it in a more dignified way. “The DC should have handled it carefully,” Dr Khan says. He believes that the Pabna incident also reveals how weak the administration has become. “We are talking about a local problem, which should not have snowballed into a national issue. Apart from the destructive side, it exposes the erosion of the administrative capabilities of the government. The DC should have informed his superior authority about the problems that he has been facing,” Dr Khan says.
One of the reasons why incidents like this are repeating themselves is because even though the constitution clearly states that the administration and the legislature must be separated, in practise the lawmakers, especially the ones belonging to the ruling parties, call the shots, which in effect paralyses the administration as it cannot work in a neutral and non-partisan manner. “Nepotism and cronyism have reached a new height,” Majumdar says.
Last week, the Vice Chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University was
verbally abused allegedly by ruling party members, as he could not provide them with jobs.
Last week, the Vice Chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University was verbally abused allegedly by ruling party members, as he could not provide them with jobs. “It has turned so ugly that one of our men was manhandled by our own party members,” Manna says.
And ugly it would have turned sooner or later. “Jobs are few in the country and it will not be possible to satisfy everyone. There is this tendency that our governments have been practising according to which they provide jobs only to the ruling party members; this is unconstitutional. The situation is going out of hand,” Dr Khan says.
The MPs also need to be made aware of the way legislature and administration cohabit peacefully in a functioning democracy. “If the MP has felt that he has been deliberately sidelined, he could have lodged a complaint. There are procedures of doing it, but has he done anything as such? No,” Dr Khan says.
As the subsequent governments have never allowed the administration to function without the influence of the ruling party, the separation of the three vital organs of the state has remained only on paper.
Mahmudur Rahman Manna
There is however a brighter side to the story. Many Awami League leaders have also thrown their weight behind the civil administration in Pabna. Some alleged vandals surrendered to the police last Sunday and the government has assured to bring the perpetrators to book. “I think the impasse is going to be resolved peacefully after the Prime Minister's Adviser HT Imam and State Minister for Home Shamsul Haq Tuku, who hail from Pabna, have visited the district,” Manna says.
On their visit to the volatile district, both Imam and Tuku have tried to soothe the wounds of the bureaucrats; but Pabna, which houses the country's most famous mental asylum, will loom large in the country's political landscape for a long time. Outsiders meddling in the affairs of the public administration has been going on for a long time to the detriment of good governance. Some recent incidents suggest that there are quite a few individuals in the government and the ruling party who consider the country and its administration their fiefdom and they think they can do whatever they want to.
In the run up to the last general elections, Sheikh Hasina promised to bring change in the country's politics. After the people had overwhelmingly voted for 'boat', the AL's election symbol, Hasina came up with fresh new faces in the cabinet. But as a few rotten apples can ruin the entire basket, her achievements run the risk of going in vain because of the feudal and undemocratic behaviour of some of her colleagues.
There are times in history when a politician has to rise up to the occasion to become the true leader of nation. She has to make painful decisions; she has to make amends, shunning those who have gone astray and also those who are giving her a bad name. Throughout her political career, Hasina has steered her party and government in troubled waters with brinkmanship. Compared to those bleak days, what she needs to do now is quite an easy task to do: Hasina needs to discipline her rank, and perhaps a little housecleaning has also to be done to make her party and government smart and forward-looking. The Awami League government has remained the last hope for those who believe in the spirit of the Liberation War, it cannot be allowed to fail.
(R) thedailystar.net 2010